Chicago Blackhawks are Still Elite

After a bumpy 3-4 start to the 2016-17 season, the Chicago Blackhawks have gotten back on track with eight victories in their last 10 contests, including a string of seven consecutive wins. That streak had drama at the beginning and end, starting with the 3-2 overtime thriller over the New Jersey Devils on October 28. At the other end were two overtime victories, the last being a 2-1 win in St. Louis on November 9.

Nearly a quarter of the way into the campaign, Chicago again finds itself in first place with an 11-4-2 record, four points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets. One of the keys in getting the winning atmosphere going again was a stronger emphasis on defense. In those first seven games, the Blackhawks allowed 25 goals, while their winning streak that spanned the same amount of clashes saw them hold opponents to just nine goals.

On November 13, right wing Patrick Kane’s goal late in the second period turned out to be the game-winner in the 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens, who entered the game atop the Eastern Conference with a 13-1-1 record. Still, the defense also came up big as goaltender Corey Crawford made two clutch stops in the third period, the latter coming with just 20 seconds left.

Chicago’s continued success is due in large part to the work of the front office, headed by Stan Bowman. Given the constraints of the NHL’s salary cap, being able to maintain a consistently winning franchise requires a solid grasp of player development, an awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of available talent and an ability to maneuver within the cap.

The chances that the Blackhawks have of potentially capturing their fourth Stanley Cup in eight seasons pretty much lies with just six players: Kane, Crawford, right wing Marian Hossa, center Jonathan Toews, along with defensemen Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. With that level of excellence comes the reality of paying for it, which in turn requires a good deal of finesse for maintaining the remainder of the roster.

Due to some costs for players no longer with the team, a good number of the players that filled out the remaining had to either be young or come cheap. That’s because the six players above took up roughly half of the salary cap.

In reality, the continued success shouldn’t be a surprise to either Chicago fans or anyone who knows the NHL. It can be a messy and painful process in discarding some fan favorites, yet that’s been the philosophy of the Blackhawks front office since the franchise’s Cup success began in 2010.

Chicago saw its seven-game road trip out West begin with a thud with a 4-0 loss at Winnipeg on November 15. Yet they’re already in first place with a roster that appears to have established the right chemistry for their postseason run. Raising Lord Stanley is never easy, but the Blackhawks maintain the blueprints for doing it.

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